It’s a nice place to be in summers — ice-creams, soft-drinks, cool breeze, friendly chit chat after a nice drive. It’s also a hunting ground of sorts — for the likes of Sahibuddin.
Sahibuddin and myself were rummaging through the treasure trove flung aside by those who had a nice time that night. “Be sure to pick up those plastic bottles of cola… these will fetch us five rupees a kilo,” he said as I rummaged through the stench and litter. I had often been to India Gate with friends. This time it was different.
I was, so to say, on the ‘other side’ trying to ‘make a living’ off the leftovers of the likes of me. As part of a personal and social experiment on myself, I decided to see what life was like beyond my home. I decided to stay a day with Sahibuddin, one of Delhi’s 80,000 odd ragpickers.
He did not object but was taken aback as apparently nobody has ever done this before. Sahibuddin stayed with a group of ragpickers below the road connecting to the Oberoi Flyover in Nizamuddin. There was garbage all around the area, which also happened to have a sewer.
They shared this area with an array of animals. Their rooms were beneath the road, and tiny, dingy and dirty. However, a shock awaited me in his room. It was small as I expected, but it also happened to have a television and a music system! I sat with him and his friends for a while and talked to them about their lives. I was appalled to hear that most of them walked around to pick up garbage and on an average earned merely Rs 70 a day.
The ones who operated on a bicycle like Sahibuddin could earn up to Rs 150 a day. Sahibuddin was a night worker, so I set out with him at around 7.30 pm. On bicycles we went from Nizamuddin around the Lutyen’s Delhi area collecting garbage.
I tried my best to help him, yet I could not bring myself to sift through leftover food in search of garbage. We went around doing this till 12.30 pm at which we went home and slept.
On the way, he told me how ragpickers are harassed by the police. On the way to his house, I was thinking about my experience and also about how good it was that even though Sahibuddin was a ragpicker, he managed to maintain his dignity.
He was hygienic, ate clean food, wore clean clothes, and didn’t waste his money on alcohol. He had fun just like any of us, watched television and movies, and played with his friends.
One of the things that I had learnt from this experience was that no matter how different occupations and lifestyles are, all of us enjoy our life in similar ways. Even in seemingly difficult circumstances, it is possible to have fun as always. A remarkable thing that I noticed was the ease with which Sahibuddin allowed me into his home, after the initial reluctance.
Would any one of us allow a poor man into our house for a night if he came and said that he would like to know what our life was like? I doubt it. Also, I saw that Sahibuddin had no problem in sharing his food with me which shows that people from underpriveledged background are more generous.
I thought about what could be done about the plight of these rag pickers and I realised that increasing awareness among the public was the only thing what could make a difference.
Meanwhile, the least we can do is be thankful for what we have, and thoughtful towards those who have nothing, because it is our trash that is their treasure.(The writer is a Class XII student of The Shri Ram School)